Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Week in Not Bad News

From the New York Times

"For the solar and wind industries in the United States, it has been a long-held dream: to produce energy at a cost equal to conventional sources like coal and natural gas.

That day appears to be dawning.

The cost of providing electricity from wind and solar power plants has plummeted over the last five years, so much so that in some markets renewable generation is now cheaper than coal or natural gas."

A different perspective to the 2014 elections by a Republican whose analysis is that because the wrong GOPers won, the Democrats are in a position to dominate beginning in 2016:

In a careful analysis, Ladd builds a case: The Midterms of 2014 demonstrate the continuation of a 20 year old trend. Republicans are disappearing from the competitive landscape at the national level where the population is the largest utilizing a declining electoral base of waging, white, and rural voters. As a result no GOP candidate on the horizon has a chance at the White House in 2016 and the chance of holding the Senate beyond 2016 is vanishingly small.

 And on ballot questions, the results were more sweeping than I knew:

Every major Democratic ballot initiative was successful, including every minimum wage increase, even in the red states. AND every personhood amendment failed.

His conclusion:

“It is almost too late for Republicans to participate in shaping the next wave of our economic and political transformation. The opportunities we inherited coming out of the Reagan Era are blinking out of existence one by one while we chase so-called “issues” so stupid, so blindingly disconnected from our emerging needs that our grandchildren will look back on our performance in much the same way that we see the failures of the generation that fought desegregation. Something, some force, some gathering of sane, rational, authentically concerned human beings generally at peace with reality must emerge in the next four to six years from the right, or our opportunity will be lost for a long generation. Needless to say, Greg Abbott and Jodi Ernst are not that force. ‘Winning’ this election did not help that force emerge.”

This is the Daily Kos diary that summarizes it, with a link to the original article in the Houston Chronicle and a followup.

And shhhh, don't tell anybody but the House of Crazy Reps admitted in its own report that everything GOPers have been screaming about Benghazi!  Benghazi! was utter fantasy.  The Associated Press:

A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, intelligence about who carried it out and why was contradictory, the report found. That led Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to inaccurately assert that the attack had evolved from a protest, when in fact there had been no protest. But it was intelligence analysts, not political appointees, who made the wrong call, the committee found. The report did not conclude that Rice or any other government official acted in bad faith or intentionally misled the American people.

So how did Faux News react to its hysteria being trashed by facts?  By telling a completely different story.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Larger Reality

Ursula LeGuin made two different but related points, both vital, in accepting an award.

The first has to do with the literary legitimacy of science fiction and fantasy writers, and the importance of future visions to the future itself:

"And I rejoice at accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long, my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction—writers of the imagination, who for the last 50 years watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists.

I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality."

The second point is the restraint on the freedom to write and on true authorship that's been growing a long while and has now reached nearly impossible proportions, not because of some fascist or even national security state, but because of the takeover by the institutionalized greed of capitalism:

"Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship. (Thank you, brave applauders.)

Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial; I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an ebook six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience and writers threatened by corporate fatwa, and I see a lot of us, the producers who write the books, and make the books, accepting this. Letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish and what to write.

Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words."

This is almost her complete speech--it's under six minutes in the video above, and the complete transcript is here.

We Were Strangers Once, Too

It didn't take long for Republican noisemakers to pummel the media with their hypocritical cant and carping, so here is a rare opportunity to hear what President Obama actually said in his 15 minute talk to the American people Thursday on immigration.

He spelled out actions he'd taken to strengthen the southern borders and results that should cheer GOPers if they could accept the facts, and he talked about the efforts to pass immigration reform that have been stymied by Republican leadership in the House.  Like Ronald Reagan and lots of Presidents before him, he outlined a few steps he could take under well-established presidential authority.

But why bother?  That's when this talk rises above policy to get at the American soul, and the soul of our President.  So don't let your ears glaze over before you get there.

"Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger -- we were strangers once, too.  My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal – that all of us are created equal..."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What We Can't See Does Hurt Us

We  can't see CO2 or what it's doing to the thin layer of atmosphere that enables life as we know it on Earth.  But a NASA satellite has been looking back at the planet to study what its instruments can see.  Video with narration (and music) from NASA that shows the flow of carbon dioxide and other gases over the planet in a year.  National Geographic supplies some further explanation.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Mega$+MegaFear=GOP 2014

Another Monday, another Doonesbury instant classic from yesterday's papers, and here on the Internet.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Taking It To the World

The Maldive islands off India as seen from space. They are among the world's most endangered from climate crisis sea level rise.
Update early Sunday: Reuters reports that the G20 summit voted in favor of addressing the climate crisis, as President Obama advocated. 

 Reuters: "The United States and other nations overrode host Australia's attempts to keep climate change off the formal agenda. Australia is one of the world's biggest carbon emitters per capita. The final communique called for strong and effective action to address climate change with the aim of adopting a protocol, with legal force, at a U.N. climate conference in Paris in 2015."

"The most difficult discussion was on climate change," an EU official told reporters on condition of anonymity. "This was really trench warfare, this was really step by step by step. In the end we have references to most of the things we wanted."

Following up the US agreement with China on reducing global heating emissions, President Obama challenged the G20 meetings in Australia to make an international climate agreement next year.  And he backed it up with a new contribution to a UN fund that helps poorer nations confront the climate crisis.

The Guardian story begins: Barack Obama has stared down both Republican hostility at home and the reluctance of his Australian G20 hosts to insist that the world can clinch a new climate change deal next year.

The story quotes his speech in Australia, referring to the pledges that China has made in the new agreement: “So them setting up a target sends a powerful message to the world that all countries, whether you are a developed country, a developing country or somewhere in between, you’ve got to be able to overcome old divides, look squarely at the science and reach a strong global climate agreement next year.  And if China and the US can agree on this then the world can agree on this, we can get this done and it is necessary for us to get it done.”

The LA Times reports that President Obama is pledging a US contribution of $3 billion to the UN Green Climate Fund, which funnels funds from the world's largest economies and biggest greenhouse gases polluters to nations most endangered by the climate crisis.

The story notes that "The fund is essential to getting developing nations to sign on to a climate pact international negotiators will present in Paris in December 2015."  Though other countries have pledged, US pledge is the largest to date.

The story quotes “A $3-billion U.S. pledge to the Green Climate Fund would be an important show of American leadership to help the most vulnerable people in the world protect themselves from dangerous climate impacts and to ensure a coordinated global response to climate change,” said Heather Coleman, climate program manager for Oxfam America, who noted that the pledge is similar to American commitments to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Obama Traded To Canada

The Republican majority in Congress has wasted no time, not even waiting to be officially sworn in.  GOP congressional leaders have announced that they've made a deal with the country's chief trading partner, Canada.  They've traded President Barack Obama.

"It was their idea," Senate Majority Leader Ted "Tailgunner" Cruz claimed, pointing to a letter to the editor published in a Canadian newspaper.

"Many of us Canadians are confused by the U.S. midterm elections," wrote Richard Brunt of Victoria, British Columbia. "Consider, right now in America, corporate profits are at record highs, the country's adding 200,000 jobs per month, unemployment is below 6%, U.S. gross national product growth is the best of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. The dollar is at its strongest levels in years, the stock market is near record highs, gasoline prices are falling, there's no inflation, interest rates are the lowest in 30 years, U.S. oil imports are declining, U.S. oil production is rapidly increasing, the deficit is rapidly declining, and the wealthy are still making astonishing amounts of money."

America is leading the world once again and respected internationally — in sharp contrast to the Bush years. Obama brought soldiers home from Iraq and killed Osama bin Laden. So, Americans vote for the party that got you into the mess that Obama just dug you out of? This defies reason."

"All that leftist socialist Kenyan uppity Nazi stuff was pretty disgusting," Cruz claimed.  "But he had one good idea that he ended his letter with."

Brunt's final sentence was this: "When you are done with Obama, could you send him our way?"

Cruz could hardly control himself when he saw that, he intimated loudly.  So he got his GOP colleagues together, they contacted Canadians they knew (mostly in the oil industry) and quickly made a deal.

In a post-midnight session they traded President Obama for Doug Ford, Jr. who they described as Canada's Prime Minister, and a bagman to be named later.

Douglas Ford is a Toronto city councillor, the brother of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford and part owner of Deco Labels and Tags. He was recently defeated in his electoral bid to become mayor of Toronto.

When a US reporter informed the GOP officials that Ford is not the Prime Minister of Canada,  GOP senator-elect Joni Ernst of Iowa said, "That's your opinion."

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Step Towards Saving the World

The New York Times:

"China and the United States made common cause on Wednesday against the threat of climate change, staking out an ambitious joint plan to curb carbon emissions as a way to spur nations around the world to make their own cuts in greenhouse gases.

The landmark agreement, jointly announced here by President Obama and President Xi Jinping, includes new targets for carbon emissions reductions by the United States and a first-ever commitment by China to stop its emissions from growing by 2030.

Administration officials said the agreement, which was worked out quietly between the United States and China over nine months and included a letter from Mr. Obama to Mr. Xi proposing a joint approach, could galvanize efforts to negotiate a new global climate agreement by 2015."

"It was the signature achievement of an unexpectedly productive two days of meetings between the leaders
," the Times story continues. "A climate deal between China and the United States, the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 carbon polluters, is viewed as essential to concluding a new global accord."

"Unexpectedly productive" is an understatement.  The conventional wisdom has been that the US and China were global antagonists with few common goals.  Now apparently they have one--the biggest one, the one that counts more for the future than any other.

The Times story is long and informative, and worth the hit it might make on your month's free views.  The Guardian continually updates their story, and it includes supportive words from Secretary of State John Kerry, and Al Gore--but also promises of Republican congressional opposition. "Our economy can’t take the president’s ideological war on coal," said Mitch McConnell, bowing down to his fossil fuel overlords and their millions in dark campaign money.

The Guardian also quotes President Obama from his statement in China: "He said the US emissions reductions goal was “ambitious but achievable” and would double the pace at which it is reducing carbon emissions." The new US goal is reducing emissions by 26 to 28% by 2025, compared to 2025 levels.  Greenpeace calls this a floor, not a ceiling for reductions.  

The Guardian continues: Obama added: “This is a major milestone in US-China relations and shows what is possible when we work together on an urgent global challenge.”

He added that they hoped “to encourage all major economies to be ambitious and all developed and developing countries to work across divides” so that an agreement could be reached at the climate change talks in Paris in December next year."

According to the New York Daily News: "China’s pledge to reach peak carbon emissions by 2030, if not sooner, is even more remarkable. To reach that goal, Mr. Xi pledged that so-called clean energy sources, like solar power and windmills, would account for 20 percent of China’s total energy production by 2030."

The News also reports that the final agreement was produced during a recent trip to China by Obama adviser on climate John Podesta.

These meetings, characterized as a breakthrough in US-China relations, also resulted in a a technology agreement favorable to US businesses.  The San Francisco Chronicle estimates that this deal could add a trillion dollars a year to the "global trade in information technology."

Monday, November 10, 2014

Corruption By Any Other Name

If you missed this in the Sunday it is.  Read it and laugh/weep.
It's Doonesbury by Gary Trudeau for Nov. 9, 2014. I saw it online here.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Cold Comfort in Nightmare Nation

High in the Department of Cold Comfort is Gary Younge's analysis in the Guardian that it really wasn't a wave election for the GOPers, the Dems didn't lose as badly as it seems, etc.

Or that (according to New York Magazine) liberal candidates lost while liberal policies won.  Or that a numbers analysis shows that GOPers did not disturb the Obama base very much.

Or that  "Denton, Texas became the first city in Texas to ban fracking with a locally led ballot initiative. Two counties in California did the same. Richmond, California defied massive spending from Chevron to elect a Mayor ready to take on Big Oil in their backyard," according to

That's about all the analysis I'm going to read, frankly.  Yes, the demographic and historical deck was stacked against the Democrats.  Yes, the billionaires bought themselves a Congress and more states, bought themselves noise and turmoil to upset the confrontation with the climate crisis, as well as other matters.

Did it make any difference in the end that Democrats were timid, running on tested single issues and running away from their President?  Maybe not, but it's going to matter now.  Does anybody know what Democrats stand for?  I guess we'll find out.  But I am sure that today would feel better if Dems had gone down fighting FDR style, i.e. "I welcome their hate."

Maybe the numbers will show that President Obama pulling back from action on immigration didn't hurt Dems in the end, but I suspect it's going to hurt from now on.  Timid Democrats kept Obama quiet, which didn't work out too well.  He and we missed the chance to define what matters and what's really happening, with the ultra-rich fossil fuel magnates, the Koch Brothers and their ilk, buying turmoil and killing the future.  It doesn't look like that electoral chance is coming again soon, not with the likely candidates for 2016.

The best news was that "President Obama did not appear chastened" by the outcome. 2015 is going to be a very important year for the future, it's going to be a lot more difficult now, but it will be all but lost if President Obama loses courage and leadership.

So we woke up to a nightmare country, with Tailgunner Ted as Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate.  It turns out that Tailgunner Joe McCarthy was actually a vampire, and he's got a promotion.

But at least this guy

beat this guy

to become governor of Pennsylvania.  Or something like that.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

How Can You Mend A Broken Heart

From 2001, this has to be one of the last Bee Gees performances of this song. Great picture and sound--you almost have to see this to get how unique they were.

Hold Your Nose and Vote

It's not much of a slogan.  But it's about how I feel this year: Hold Your Nose and Vote.

Monitoring headlines over the past couple of days, it's clear that the media has decided that the Republicans have won the election that--not to put too fine a point on it--isn't over until tonight.  The NY Times and Washington Post seem sure that even the White House has decided the election is lost.

An amount of money has been spent that likely will never be totally known, but is certainly well beyond obscene.  Unsurprisingly it's estimated that the Republicans have won the contest to spill the most billions in "dark money," courtesy of our Supreme Republican Court.  But then if money is speech, how can I be talking?

My email inbox has been stuffed every single day with pleas to donate $3, $5, $200 from every Democrat with a name, plus some that look made up.  I used to get a thrill when I saw President Obama's name as the sender, but this time around I just got embarrassed, and felt really tawdry sending him to junk mail.  The mailers sent in his name did him no favors--there wasn't even the pretense of a presidential message, just check boxes for cash.

Today I got around to sorting through the piles of campaign mail on behalf of candidates and propositions.  None of it made me feel good about anything.

  Nationally, the Democrats seem to have too many mediocre candidates.  But their Republican opponents are far, far worse.  If Iowa actually elects Joni Ernst to the US Senate (and media has decided it already has), the state and the US Capitol both deserve to fall into the sea.  And I'm well aware of Iowa's location when I say that.

Find me a candidate, incidentally, who even noticed the epic UN climate report on Sunday.  It didn't even last as a news story until Monday.  But then it's only about the fate of the planet, the future of the human race and how the lives of everybody on Earth who expects to live more than another twenty years is going to change significantly... but of course that can't be important in an election.

Conventional wisdom is that Republicans succeeded in making these elections about President Obama (even though they dropped their plan to sue him, and stopped insisting they would repeal Obamacare), and because the world not being perfect enough is his fault, they will win.  A few writers were a bit more cautious, noting for example the radio ads Obama made for black radio stations that could affect turnout and therefore outcomes in some highly contested states.  But basically, this is part of the post-election narrative that--like it does just about everything--the media has delivered in advance.

Conventional wisdom is that the Senate is lost to Dems, and except for the dramatic and inflated headlines that the media will joyfully hype, that it doesn't make much difference anyway.  Jonathan Chait's argument is probably the most sophisticated, and maybe the most reasonable.  After noting that "the Republicans in the House are, by and large, barking mad" and oppose everything, including the concept of governing, and without the House, nothing gets passed, therefore the Senate is superfluous. "If the House could make a deal with Obama, the Senate would sign on to the deal if it were controlled by Republicans or if it were controlled by Democrats. Gridlock will continue through the next Congress regardless of the Senate race."

Of course, legislation isn't all that's at issue--there are judicial and executive appointments, treaty ratification etc. Plus the joy of seeing McConnell's face more often.  But basically Chiat is among those who are essentially saying this election means nothing.

My prime political consultant Andy Borowitz agrees that nothing will change, although he sees the impact a little differently, in his story headlined Midterms Prediction: Billionaires to Retain Control of Government.

And yet, on Tuesday afternoon I'll walk a quarter mile or so to my polling place (which is itself pretty dull--nowhere near as interesting as any of my Pennsylvania polling places, with their kibitzing pols and bake sales) and I will (figuratively) hold my nose and (actually) vote.

I will vote.  Why?  Because I'm a damn citizen that's why.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

It Starts: The Fossil Fuels Endgame

From the Guardian:

Climate change is set to inflict “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” on people and the natural world unless carbon emissions are cut sharply and rapidly, according to the most important assessment of global warming yet published.

The stark report states that climate change has already increased the risk of severe heatwaves and other extreme weather and warns of worse to come, including food shortages and violent conflicts. But it also found that ways to avoid dangerous global warming are both available and affordable.

“Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in the message,” said the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, attending what he described as the “historic” report launch. “Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.” He said that quick, decisive action would build a better and sustainable future, while inaction would be costly.

Ban added a message to investors, such as pension fund managers: “Please reduce your investments in the coal- and fossil fuel-based economy and [move] to renewable energy.”

The report, released in Copenhagen on Sunday by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is the work of thousands of scientists and was agreed after negotiations by the world’s governments. It is the first IPCC report since 2007 to bring together all aspects of tackling climate change and for the first time states: that it is economically affordable; that carbon emissions will ultimately have to fall to zero; and that global poverty can only be reduced by halting global warming. The report also makes clear that carbon emissions, mainly from burning coal, oil and gas, are currently rising to record levels, not falling."

The BBC hones in on the specifics that also led what US media reports there were:

The unrestricted use of fossil fuels should be phased out by 2100 if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change, a UN-backed expert panel says.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says in a stark report that most of the world's electricity can - and must - be produced from low-carbon sources by 2050.

If not, the world faces "severe, pervasive and irreversible" damage. The UN said inaction would cost "much more" than taking the necessary action."

Anything new here?  Mostly that the UN Panel is officially saying these things, in a reported vetted by governments--the process that typically waters down the final reports.  And by providing numbers in terms of years, it goes a long way in setting the agenda for the next and absolutely crucial international meetings next year.

It emphasizes what Bill McKibben wrote in another of his thoughtful reviews of the recent literature on the subject in the New York Review of Books this summer:

"We may be entering the high-stakes endgame on climate change. The pieces—technological and perhaps political—are finally in place for rapid, powerful action to shift us off of fossil fuel. Unfortunately, the players may well decide instead to simply move pawns back and forth for another couple of decades, which would be fatal. Even more unfortunately, the natural world is daily making it more clear that the clock ticks down faster than we feared. The whole game is very nearly in check."

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Ebola Wars

The war of fear and fact continues in the US.  Fear is apparently winning on the streets.  The New York Times reports that health care workers who simply work for the same institutions that are treating Ebola patients are being stigmatized, in Atlanta, Omaha, Dallas--and New York City.

There hundreds of health care workers at Bellvue are being materially stigmatized, including nurses losing their second jobs, one lost a teaching position and one nurse's child has been thrown out of daycare--all for simply working at the same hospital where an Ebola patient is treated.

It doesn't help that early symptoms of Ebola are reportedly similar to the flu that is in fact the epidemic that is spreading in America, as it often does at this time of year.  Here in far northern California, people reporting those symptoms are being told to get a flu shot.

One major victory over fear: a Maine judge rejected the governor's request for a court order to force Kaci Hickox, the Doctors Without Borders nurse and epidemologist, to continue her house arrest, otherwise known as quarantine.  He did so in no uncertain terms, basing his decision on science.

But no one is taking Ebola lightly in all of this.  Hickox is monitored daily for symptoms, such as fever.  Ebola victims are only contagious when they show symptoms, and only through direct contact with bodily fluids.

The irrational fear, fed for political gain and money by politicians and media, is only obscuring the real dangers of Ebola, which are considerable.  Stupid efforts need to be stopped, and more smart efforts begun and maintained.  Not nearly enough is known about the disease or how to stop it spreading and mutating in the parts of the world with poor medical care where it thrives.  If it is not controlled there it could become a much larger and more potent threat in the rest of the world.

Two recent articles in the New Yorker summarize the problems and the state of medical knowledge.   The real Ebola Wars are being fought in laboratories and on the front lines in Africa, with contributions from what is being learned in treating the few patients in US hospitals.

 The heroes of this war, who are putting themselves in harms way to save people and to accumulate knowledge that can save many more, are precisely these medical workers who are being stigmatized, and injured financially, socially and psychologically.  It's time to grow up.  And to revolt against the politicians and media institutions feeding this self-destructive hysteria.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Congratulations San Francisco Giants!

Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants, who won the seventh game of the World Series behind five innings of scoreless relief by--who else?--Madison Bumgarner to become the 2014 World Champions.  Tonight the city of San Francisco began celebrating, with the big parade likely later in the week--on Halloween.  It's the Giants third championship in five seasons.  More photos and links at American Dash.  (These photos from San Francisco Chronicle.)


More Ebola Facts, More Fear

On Wednesday, the furor over quarantines in the US continues, as the Governor of Maine requests a court order to force Doctors Without Borders nurse Kaci Hickox to remain under house arrest, and California announced its own quarantine guidelines that would seem to apply to others like her who return from the front lines battling Ebola.  Having issued its own guidelines, the federal government is opposing piecemeal state quarantine orders

Providing a factual overview, President Obama spoke forthrightly about the current situation, the danger of discouraging health workers from battling Ebola in Africa where it is truly dangerous, and about reacting based on facts, not fear.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ebola Hysterics in High Places

Between Friday and Monday, two major East Coast governors panicked, and it wasn't a pretty sight.  The governors of New York (D) and New Jersey (R) made this a bipartisan hysteria.

They both declared they would quarantine health workers returning from West Africa.  They did so without consulting health officials on any level (including federal), and without consulting or even informing the local governments and hospitals that would be expected to enforce the quarantines.

Thanks to a doubly courageous nurse, the whole thing unraveled.

Courageous because Kaci Hickox, a nurse and epidemiologist was out on the front lines with Doctors Without Borders, which may well be the most effective organization in dealing with the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.  She returned from Sierra Leone Friday, was detained at Newark International Airport and incarcerated at University Hospital.

She was doubly courageous because (despite Christie's belief she would "understand") she let the world know what was done to her.

She showed no symptoms, contrary to what Governor Christie stated publicly. Christie has continued to lie about this.  She was confined in a situation that pretty much describes a small town lockup, only maybe worse.  It's not clear if as this LA Times story says she was lodged in a tent essentially outdoors--other stories suggest it was indoors.  But basically it tells the story.

Federal officials immediately criticized the quarantines as medically unnecessary, and sending the wrong messages. Medical experts including the New England Journal of Medicine called them "more destructive than beneficial."  The new CDC guidelines don't recommend quarantines except in closely defined high risk cases.

Whatever case could be made for quarantine, these were so rushed and unconsidered on any basis other than political, that they were clearly the result of panic.  Not what you want to see in leaders.

Now the "quarantines" are officially to be served at home.  House arrest, essentially. Kaci Hickox returned to her home in Maine.

As usual the definitive words come from the Borowitz Report which "reported": "Saying that he was “sick and tired of having my medical credentials questioned,” Governor Chris Christie (R-N.J.) had himself sworn in as a medical doctor on Sunday night.

Dr. Christie acknowledged that becoming a doctor generally requires pre-med classes, four years of medical school, plus additional years of residency, but he said that the Ebola epidemic compelled him to take “extraordinary measures, as we say in the medical profession.”

A few days earlier Borowitz also reported:

"Amid concerns that the spreading fear of Ebola has become a greater threat than the virus itself, a new poll shows that a majority of Americans favor a quarantine of the CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer.

While poll respondents supported quarantining more than a dozen cable-news personalities, including the entire cast of “Fox & Friends,” a full seventy-two per cent gave the nod to a quarantine of Blitzer.

At the Centers for Disease Control, a spokesman said that a Blitzer quarantine was “very much on the table,” and that the C.D.C. had come up with a workable plan.

“Essentially, we would do a lockdown of ‘The Situation Room’ and provide Wolf with food and water until the crisis passes,” he said.

Perhaps they'll find room for the governors of New York and New Jersey, and their egos.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Top of the World Series

Congratulations to Madison Bumgarner for a commanding performance on Sunday, pitching the first shutout in a World Series game in over a decade, and to the San Francisco Giants for their 5-0 victory in the fifth game and their last appearance in the home park for the year.  They're up in the Series 3 wins to 2.  Follow the World Series at American Dash.  Photo: San Francisco Chronicle.

Catching Up with the Dalai Lama and other matters

Over the past week or so I've bookmarked some items that caught my eye:

Speaking of eyes, fans using powerful laser pointers to distract opposing quarterbacks risk causing blindness--a problem that would seem to transcend this particular use.

The latest alternative weekly to bite the dust: the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

This is from a few weeks ago but it got little attention: South Africa denied a visa to the Dalai Lama for a peace meeting by Nobel Laureates--and the other laureates rebelled, causing cancellation of the event.  Stories suggest it was to mollify China--which may seem surprising, except that China is investing heavily in Africa, which is beginning to attract notice in the West.

Apparently, certain problems within the Secret Service are not at all new, but have long been part of its culture.  A very troubling report of the impact on the JFK assassination.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Unconventional Wisdom

I read Profiles in Courage in high school.  I wouldn't be surprised if Barack Obama read it in high school as well.  I wonder if he remembers, as I do, the signature quote of the chapter on Thomas Hart Benton: "I despise the bubble popularity."

As the 2014 elections approach, Democrats are supposedly in trouble because the Obama bubble has supposedly burst.  An unpopular President, the media drones, a failed presidency.  Reporters are quick to detect any secret sign that a candidate is "running away" from the President.  As First Read pointed out, Democrats who run away from the President are fools.  First, they are Democrats and they are going to be identified with a Democratic President anyway.  And second, they'll alienate the very Democrats who gave Barack Obama two big majorities.

But there are contrarians out there who beg to differ with the premise.  One of them is Paul Krugman writing in Rolling Stone.  First of all, he takes issue with the idea that Obama is all that unpopular:

"Yes, Obama has a low approval rating compared with earlier presidents. But there are a number of reasons to believe that presidential approval doesn't mean the same thing that it used to: There is much more party-sorting (in which Republicans never, ever have a good word for a Democratic president, and vice versa), the public is negative on politicians in general, and so on. Obviously the midterm election hasn't happened yet, but in a year when Republicans have a huge structural advantage – Democrats are defending a disproportionate number of Senate seats in deep-red states – most analyses suggest that control of the Senate is in doubt, with Democrats doing considerably better than they were supposed to. This isn't what you'd expect to see if a failing president were dragging his party down."

So much for the bubble popularity.  He continues:

"More important, however, polls – or even elections – are not the measure of a president. High office shouldn't be about putting points on the electoral scoreboard, it should be about changing the country for the better. Has Obama done that? Do his achievements look likely to endure? The answer to both questions is yes."

 Krugman wasn't an Obama enthusiast and has criticized some of his actions as President.  But after 6 years he's taken the long view:

"Despite bitter opposition, despite having come close to self-inflicted disaster, Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history. His health reform is imperfect but still a huge step forward – and it's working better than anyone expected. Financial reform fell far short of what should have happened, but it's much more effective than you'd think. Economic management has been half-crippled by Republican obstruction, but has nonetheless been much better than in other advanced countries. And environmental policy is starting to look like it could be a major legacy."

Read the piece.  It may cheer you or change your mind.  There's a companion list for the text averse:55 figures that prove President Obama has accomplished more than you may realize.
President Obama hugs a nurse who survived Ebola

And there's a different article that takes an overview of Obama's accomplishments in rolling back the rabid right Republican takeover of the judiciary.  This one may surprise you even more--it's by one of the best in the business, Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker, and it includes an interview with the President.

Meanwhile, major Republican candidates are trying hard to hide how extreme they actually are.  And failing.  Look no farther than Colorado.  And the polls say she is ahead.  I don't pretend to understand what's going on in voters heads in these states.  But Democrats need to get their brains out of the bubble and their heads back up where they belong, and get to the polls.  We've got a President.  Don't let him down.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

R.I.P. The Editor: Ben Bradlee

For a short time in the post-Watergate '70s, Ben Bradlee and I had something in common: we were both editors of a Washington newspaper.  Of course, fledgling alternative weekly Washington Newsworks was not exactly the giant, swaggering Washington Post.  We were the "Washington Outsiders" (as our promo said--I wrote it) in direct contrast to the insiders at the Post.  Though there was also another daily in town (the solid, well-edited Washington Star) the Post was the measure of all journalism in Washington.  They were all over the glamorous federal Washington, but their Metro section was weak.  So we looked for our stories there, as well as in the youth culture that the Post saw chiefly with bemusement.

Though I never met Bradlee, he was already an icon.  I'd been in Boston when the Pentagon Papers and Watergate were happening--my own stories on the 1972 Nixon campaign cited the Post's reporting before it permeated the political consciousness.

  Then as Newsworks editor, Bradlee's boldness was an unadmitted model.  My first news decision was reviving a story that had been held back because it might offend an advertiser.  Bradlee wouldn't be intimidated! I worked with the writer to make sure the story was solid, and we gave the advertisers a heads-up on its publication (They shrugged--they knew newspapers reported stories when they bought the ads.)

  Later I went after a national story which involved facing down some very important people, channeling Bradlee without realizing it.  My proudest moment now was how Newsworks covered the assassination of Chilean activist Orlando Letelier in a car bombing by Pinochet's secret police on the streets of Washington that also killed American Ronni Karpen Moffitt.  Jeff Stein did all the reporting (he's now a columnist at the Washington Post) all on his own, so except for a little text editing my role was as Newswork's Bradlee.  I put the story on the cover and gave it major play inside.  I worked with Jeff, with the art and production department.  The result was the best and most thorough coverage in the city.  Better than yours, Ben.  I'll bet you noticed.

Those who knew him are marking his death with their remembrances.  (For good example, David Remnick at the New Yorker.)  For everybody else, there's an apparently dead-on portrayal of Bradlee by Jason Robards in the classic film of All the President's Men.  For me, there was and is the example of a editor with courage and panache who stood for--and stood up for--a kind of journalism I believed in, and tried to do.  Sure, he had lots of faults and some lapses.  So did and do I.  But as a model, he was it.  May he rest in peace, but his restless spirit ever pervade American journalism.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ebola Facts Not Fear 2

More Ebola facts, up to date (after many in quarantine are getting out, disease-free.)  Why some are so fearful (the perfect storm of fears: infectious disease, immigration and terrorism, exploited by politicians currently running.)  And why Ebola makes no sense as a terrorist weapon.  All of those are from Slate.

From Bloomberg, a little more psychological about why people are fearful.  And Jonathan Bernstein on why President Obama's choice for the Ebola "Czar" makes sense.

And an ongoing project but already wide perspective on all of this, check out the maybe too obvious wikipedia page.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ebola Facts Not Fear

President Obama in his weekly Saturday address (about four minutes) on the facts about Ebola in America and Africa, about the relative risks, the difficulty of contracting it (it's not airborne; contact with bodily fluids is necessary) and perspective: thousands of Americans die every year from the infectious disease called flu.  So far two nurses who treated a man who contracted the disease in Africa are the only Americans who have contracted it here, and they are being treated.  "If we are guided by the science, the facts, not fear, then I'm absolutely confident we can prevent a serious outbreak" in the US, and the US will continue to lead the world in fighting the disease in Africa.

Ebola Hysteria in the Age of Distraction

photos in this post from New Yorker
I no longer have direct contact with cable news but I am aware of the dangers of infection.  The current hysteria over Ebola is being intentionally whipped up by Republicans for political gain but mostly by a couple of cable news networks for profit and politics (Fox) and profit, or at least fewer losses, by CNN.

Clearly many of our institutions as well as the public were not ready.  WHO, C.D.C., various African governments, individual hospitals in the US, etc. didn't have effective plans to deal with this particular infectious disease, and possibly any such outbreak.  There's blame to go around, including to Republicans in Congress who cut the CDC budget, reflecting in part a general complacency in the US regarding infectious disease epidemics.  It just hasn't happened in so long that to some it didn't seem likely or a priority or maybe even possible.

But we've also known for years that as hotter temperatures move north and into higher elevations, plus other effects of the climate crisis, that infectious diseases are likely to be a problem in places unaccustomed to them.  And the likelihood of mutations would increase, which coupled with the fast daily movement of people and products (including food and plants, and the insects and rodents that hitch rides) had the potential to spread infections faster and farther than at any other time in human history.  Stephen King for one has been making a living for decades writing vividly about this.

But there are other new wrinkles in the contemporary world that spread the viruses of hysteria even faster and farther.  Local gossip, hometown zealots and fulminators who see panic as an opportunity for fame, power and profit were always very good at whipping up hysteria without regard to factual information, but within limited areas and over time.

Newspapers at their height of influence saw profit as well as power for ownership in creating hysteria that led to wars, so feeding fears that sell papers even on public health issues was hardly out of bounds.  But the world is tighter and smaller now, not only with instant access to the electronically transmitted hysteria of radio and television voices with their own agendas, their own irresponsibility and direct impulses from troubled psyches to big mouths, but with the open to everybody channels of the Internet--all the comments, tweets, texts, etc.  Getting noticed, feeling part of a group, and a hundred other motivations all too easily trump responsible speech.

The rabid right is not the only infected group.  Political coverage in the age of distraction has become more frenzied, with a higher priority on speed and brevity than thought and accuracy.

Satirists are our trenchant guides to this.  I've already cited Andy Borowitz once: Man Infected with Ebola Misinformation Through Casual Contact With Cable News.  He followed up with CNN Defends New Slogan: "The president of CNN Worldwide, Jeff Zucker, attempted on Wednesday to defuse the brewing controversy over his decision to change the network’s official slogan from “The Most Trusted Name in News” to “Holy Crap, We’re All Gonna Die.”

Most recently he posted: Some Fear Ebola Outbreak Could Make Nation Turn to Science: "In interviews conducted across the nation, leading anti-science activists expressed their concern that the American people, wracked with anxiety over the possible spread of the virus, might desperately look to science to save the day.
“It’s a very human reaction,” said Harland Dorrinson, a prominent anti-science activist from Springfield, Missouri. “If you put them under enough stress, perfectly rational people will panic and start believing in science.”

The irony is more comforting than the current reality however.  We're still knee-deep in hysteria that's way out of proportion to the actual danger, at least here in North America.  One of its many products is hysterical cries for what seem like easy solutions, but are far more complex and perhaps even counterproductive (closing airports may be one.)

Though there are always other factors involved (Arthur Miller's play on the witch hysteria in Salem comes to mind as revealing some), hysteria and panic often depend on ignorance.  Yet we have a supposedly educated country, free from the kind of superstition that fed witch hunts etc. until a couple of centuries ago.  Even with the discomfiting revival in belief in the supernatural, or the ease with which fundamentalist creeds can be turned to hysteria, it seems somewhat counter-intuitive that such hysteria exists here and now.

But consider the speed of information, and how much time the average human appendage to a smart phone spends on dealing with the volume and speed of what is usually pretty mundane data,  relieved by "viral" excitements instantly shared by millions.  It is a culture of perpetual distraction, and it requires instant easy answers to any disturbances in the field.  A complex and deadly reality like infectious disease quickly become overwhelming.

 Used to--and let's be real, addicted to-- speedy and ephemeral bits and stimulations, can we slow down to deliberate and concentrate?  Or is it just easier to lash out hysterically in every direction?  Even when doing so, we become prey to much more than a disease that so far is much less threatening to Americans than a car crash or lightning strike--or maybe more to the point, than the growing threats of floods, tornadoes, hurricanes or other slower effects of global heating, none of which we are dealing with adequately.

Hysteria is the other end of the same continuum anchored by complacency and denial.  The world has been slow to respond effectively to Ebola in Africa, where it really is a dangerous epidemic.  I happen to know someone on the front lines fighting Ebola in Africa.  She is a courageous young woman working with Doctors Without Borders.  We here who know her are very proud of her.  Supporting such efforts makes much more sense than feeding the beast of panic--for its rampages right now are more potentially dangerous than the disease itself.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


   Postmodernism?  Modernism?  Abstract Expressionism?  Hmm.  Or "a photo of microtubules and clathrin magnified 1,500 times, taken with super-resolution microscopy techniques."  Another example of what this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry winners made possible.

Guns Over Freedom

Instead of leading to sane laws, the assassination attempt on Representative Gabriel Giffords that left her near death and significantly incapacitated for life (let alone the swift murder of schoolchildren) seemed to have juiced the rabid insistence on legalizing lethal weapons and allowing anyone with a pulse, no matter how crazy or careless or clueless or intent on murder and mayhem, into even the most volatile public spaces, with all the kill power they can carry.

The current misinterpretation of the the Second Amendment is currently trumping the exercise of the First Amendment.  Anita Sarkeesian, scheduled to speak at Utah State University, received a vivid death threat--not only to herself, but to her audience.  An email told her that if she spoke it would result in "the deadliest school shooting in American history."  Note that this is an explicit threat of gun violence.

But Sarkeesian was informed by school officials that under Utah state law, they could not prevent anyone from showing up at her speech armed, as long as they had a concealed weapons permit.  The school "confirmed the latest threat and said it involved danger to Sarkeesian and anyone who would have attended her speech."  She cancelled the speech, presumably much to the relief of the school.

Think about what this means.  This is the "ballots not bullets" country where the right to free speech and to peaceably assemble are considered sacred foundations to the entire American enterprise.  They are enshrined in the First Amendment, and there's a reason it is first.  Without its guarantees, the others don't matter much.  It might even be said that the rights in the following amendments are there to support the rights in the First.

But lethal weapons can't be kept out of a public assembly.  Notice that you've read this far and you don't have to be told generally speaking what political position Sarkeesian might hold.  You know she's not speaking on behalf of the Tea Party.
She is a feminist who apparently has negative things to say about the content of various video games.  So now we're talking about a Culture War, and a political debate, in which one side shows up with guns.  Theoretically both sides could.  But you know that's not going to happen.  At least not yet.  And what if it does?
Still for now this is how the rabid right wins a debate (even if it's a rabid teenage right.)

So what's next?  Guns at the polls in a couple of weeks?  Is that legal in Utah?  In other states?

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Dreaming Up Daily Weekly Quote

“In love’s service only wounded soldiers can serve.”
Thornton Wilder

illustration: No, it's not a coastline. It's a microscopic image of actin filaments, tiny proteins involved in functions such as movement and signaling, imagery made possible through principles discovered by this year's Nobel Prize winners in Chemistry.  Photo: Xiaowei Zhuang, Harvard U.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Climate Crisis: Cause and Effect

There are two parts of the climate crisis: the causes and the effects.  The causes are the factors that create global heating, mostly greenhouse gases pollution.

Global heating has effects, generally called climate change, but more specifically its effects that injure and kill people: sea level rise and consequent permanent changes to the landscape, drought and fires, storms and floods, higher temperatures and longer and more severe heat waves, and in turn their effects, which include disease, hunger and war.

A New York Times story tried to find the best places in America to weather the climate crisis for the next century.  It's not a pretty picture. "Forget most of California and the Southwest (drought, wildfires). Ditto for much of the East Coast and Southeast (heat waves, hurricanes, rising sea levels). Washington, D.C., for example, may well be a flood zone by 2100..."  And as someone in the story notes, all these projections are merely for the next century.  The effects will continue beyond that, perhaps getting worse, especially if this generation does not deal with the causes.

The Los Angeles Times was among the news organizations to cover a study last week: "Fewer than half of American states are working to protect themselves from climate change, despite more detailed warnings from scientists that communities are already being damaged, according to a new online clearinghouse of states’ efforts compiled by the Georgetown Climate Center."

In a story made timely by the Ebola epidemic and the cases in the US but with application to climate crisis effects,  a Scientific American writer analyzed the data and found that instead of gearing up for public health emergencies,  funding for public health preparedness by the Center for Disease Control has actually been cut to the tune of a billion dollars between 2002 and 2013.

Much is being done as a byproduct of something else, or when local leadership prevails or finesses the work on effects without mentioning the "controversial" cause.  But sooner and perhaps not too late, we'll need to be clear on what needs to be done and why, on both the causes and the effects.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Blue Light Special and The Week in Good News

The Supreme Court (yes, that Supreme Court) struck down voter ID laws in Wisconsin and Texas, effective immediately.  As this story notes and others go into more elaborately, the Texas decision that the Supremes upheld is the more sweeping, indicating that the Texas law was a form of poll tax, deliberately restricting minority voters rights.

Nobel Peace Prize supports children's rights,  Physics prize for blue light, a key to earth-saving technology in the climate crisis.

This is actually a month old but it's still good news: thanks to the success of regulated limits, nearly two dozen previously threatened and endangered fish species off the California coast have bounced back to sustainable populations.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Everywhere We Were

Cave art in Indonesia has just been dated at about 40,000 years old, approximately the same age as the oldest art previously known, in caves in Spain and France.  The stenciled hands are most visible here, but there are also detailed renderings of animals, as in the ancient images in present-day Europe.  It seems pre-history is not fixed, any more than history or the future.  Such discoveries (or conclusions) seem to alter received knowledge about our humanoid origins continually.  Recently it was asserted for the first time that Neanderthals may well have fashioned tools and created art.  And that we carry their genes within us.